It’s funny how sometimes we obsess about details as specific as word choice, but deliver quick verdicts when it comes to big-deal strategy decisions.
One of those tough decisions is how to distribute the content we so meticulously create. How do we get people interested and reading? And if they are reading, how do we track that and keep people engaged? To some, not getting anything from a user in exchange for valuable information seems crazy, or at least counterintuitive. Others disagree, favoring maximum page views as the clear way to go.
Today we break down the content question: To gate or not to gate?
Over the last few years, marketers have heavily debated whether or not they should "gate" their content, meaning, prevent people from viewing content without providing basic contact details.
At Beacon Digital, we believe that a mix of both ungated and gated content is best for a comprehensive marketing strategy.
Don't know where to start? Assessing your company's goals is fundamental; knowing what content to make easily available and what content deserves restricted access all depends on who you’re trying to reach and what you hope they do with the content you’re creating.
The Case for Ungated Content
With so much content being added to the internet every day, it's no easy task trying to make your brand stand out online. Google processes more than 40,000 searches every second, and ideally, you want your content to appear on the first page.
Ungated content provides immense value because it’s easily accessible for everyone and helps drive organic search traffic. If your ultimate goal is to attract more visitors to your site, it makes sense for you to push well-optimized ungated pieces like blog posts and infographics with supporting intro text. These pieces usually cover broader, educational topics that more people are likely to search for at the beginning of their buyer's journey.
Your ungated content should give your audience a clear understanding of a general topic or provide answers to questions they’re likely searching for. At Beacon Digital, we start by thinking about a brand’s audience and a topic they’re likely interested in. Once we’ve got a topic in mind, we get down to business with keyword research, ensuring that the topic we’ve identified is one that people are searching for content on. From there, we brainstorm around the topic and its corresponding keywords to land on a blog title that’s specific to that brand’s point of view.
Ungated pieces let you engage new prospects who might not necessarily be looking for a solution and who probably aren’t ready to submit their information in a form. At this stage, you want these pieces to help establish brand awareness and attract visitors to other relevant resources on your site.
Awareness is the first step in the buyer's journey. After you attract your prospects with a blog or video, you can retarget them through other channels, like social and display, with additional content on related topics that can help turn them into more qualified leads.
The Case for Gated Content
Ultimately, you don’t have that much time to capture someone’s attention once they’re on your site. Users often leave web pages within 10 to 20 seconds, but pages with a clear value proposition can hold people’s attention for much longer. It's hard to make yourself stand out as an industry expert that your audience can trust over the competition. Crafting research-driven white papers or ebooks on an in-demand topic creates an opportunity for you to push leads further through the funnel. Sixty percent of people will check out a product or service after reading that company’s content. So, if you’re writing quality, engaging content that helps solve a user’s problems, you’re going to drive traffic to your products simultaneously.
It’s generally accepted that gated content leads to more qualified leads, because presumably users want to look at your content enough to take an additional step to get there. It also raises the assumed value of the content. Nothing has any value until we place a value on it, and by filling out a form, or opting to join an email list, the user is now saying they place some merit on the information they’re getting.
Your gated content should provide perspectives, insights, and data on a specialized topic that your audience can't find anywhere else. An in-depth case study about how you have helped your clients or an authoritative industry report are examples of content that you should gate behind a form. Content that meets the specific needs of your site visitors will help you gain more qualified leads, which can turn into potential customers. Within your white paper, case study, or ebook, there should be legitimate value, not fluff or filler. You don't want your visitors to feel like they've been wrongly prompted to submit their personal information without getting the relevant content they expected in return.
When creating gated pieces, you should also consider the way you present information to your audience. Your content will serve as a resource, so you want it to look professional, intentional, and organized in a way that your customer can refer back to at any point.
The one downfall? Google doesn’t crawl for content that is behind any wall, so less people are likely to know gated content is there in the first place. That’s not to say you can’t implement strategies to drive people to your gated content. At Beacon Digital, we apply the same keyword research strategy to ungated and gated content to optimize landing pages with relevant keywords so that our pages appear organically in search results. We also regularly link to gated content from blog posts, so that if a visitor engages with an ungated piece and then decides to explore the topic further, they can provide their information and download the personalized segmented content we have created for them.
Why We Believe It Takes Two to Tango: How Ungated and Gated Content Work Together
Ever heard of the phrase, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar? Well, it doesn’t exactly apply to how gated and ungated content work together, but it kind of does. Stick with me for a minute. Ungated content is like honey, because it’s content your audience wants in the moment. They’re attracted to it because it answers a certain question or covers a topic they’re interested in, and best of all, it’s easy to get to. With a simple click, they’re on the page and reading exactly what they wanted to know about data mining and machine learning cybersecurity (for which there are about 170 Google searches per month, by the way).
Your gated content is the vinegar, not because your audience doesn’t want it, they just don’t want it right away. Once they’re on your site, you’ve provided them with a taste of something sweet and they’ve gotten to know who you are and what you’re all about. Now, you can hit them with a different flavor - gated content that’s a bit more premium and specific to the topic at hand.
A mix of both gated and ungated content not only lets the prospect decide how relevant your services are to their needs, but it also helps you decide who is a valuable lead and who’s not quite there yet. If someone spends time viewing an ungated piece of content but doesn't inquire further, they probably need more nurturing. From there, you can provide them with content that's relevant to the specific information they've spent time evaluating.
This is why we suggest a two-pronged approach: Allow some content to flow freely, and let these breadcrumbs entice users to get involved in your content and brand. Then keep some of your best and brightest content gated to hone in and collect warm leads.
Assembling and distributing the perfect array of content in the most effective way possible can be challenging, but it’s definitely possible, especially with people like us to guide you.
Whitney Parker Mitchell
Whitney is a highly sought-after B2B online marketing expert with more than 12 years of experience leading marketing and communications teams in a variety of organizations, including nonprofits, small businesses, tech startups, and large global corporations. She’s helped dozens of brands gain greater recognition for their causes and products in the digital world.